Q&A: Clovis alumna studying Islam abroad

Editor’s note: Clovis High graduate Kayla Carruthers is studying the Islamic culture in Syria.

Q What are you doing in Syria?

A I applied for the Fulbright Program and was awarded to study in Egypt, but then encountered problems with the Ministry of Higher Education in Egypt and eventually my grant was transferred to Syria. I applied in October 2003. Additionally, I am funded through the Fulbright Islamic Civilization Initiative which is a special apportionment of funds that supports research dealing with Islam and Islamic culture in hopes that Americans’ knowledge of Islam will thus be enhanced.

Q Could you describe your work in Damascus?

A I am fascinated by the unification that nationalism provides — amongst Christians and the Muslims. I want to learn more about how Islam encourages or perhaps discourages nationalism and or patriotism. Eventually I would like to compare this with how American Christianity supports and encourages nationalism and or patriotism. All nations and religions use tools of socialization to create myths. Often times these myths are incorrect and embellished. I want to find links between these myths.

Q Why are Islamic collective memories important? What has your research shown thus far?

A Collective memories are powerful tools of socialization used to create a cohesive identity among a particular nation or people group. The ability to identify the processes of socialization that create nationalism and Islamic collective memories will prove to be a worthwhile endeavor in international relations as peace-building activities between Islam and the West become increasingly important.

I have not spent an incredible amount of time on my research because I have been focusing on learning Arabic.

Q What do you hope to get out of this experience?

A In addition to my never-ending quest to learn Arabic, I am learning more about Middle Eastern culture just by living here. The daily conversations that I have with Syrians about politics, religion, and life have taught me a lot.

Q When did you arrive in Syria and how long will you stay?

A I arrived in Damascus in mid-September. My grant is officially a nine-month grant, but I have applied for a two-month extension and plan to stay until the end of July for sure. I am seriously considering staying in Damascus for another year and then returning to the states to pursue graduate studies.

Q Describe the town you live in.

A I live in Damascus, specifically in the Old City, which is a super dense area of homes and narrow, winding streets. I rent a room from a Syrian family. There are 12 people in my house, but I have my own room, a small kitchen and bathroom. Certainly there are more luxurious accommodations, but my place is fine. I would say the majority of Syrians live in accommodations similar to mine.

Q What do you plan to do after you discover “the cure” for world peace?

A When I return to America, I really just want to expose people to a different side of Middle East politics. It’s not all a war zone over here of people who hate America. I want Americans to realize that Syria is not a scary place full of Osama bin Ladens. It is of primary importance that Americans realize that there are other cultures and societies in the world that live differently from us, but not necessarily in a manner that is inferior to us.

As far as outreach goes, I hope to speak at as many venues as possible.

Although I really don’t know exactly what my career will be in regards to that, I do hope to find a NGO (non-government organization associated with the United Nations) or non-profit committed to peace-building or conflict resolution in the Middle East to work with. Or perhaps I will work in education development in the Middle East.

• Name: Kala Carruthers
• Age: 22
• Hometown: Clovis
• Field of study: Islamic civilization initiative
• Background: A 2000 Clovis High School graduate, Carruthers studied political science and philosophy / theology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif.

Compiled by CNJ staff writer Leslie Radford via e-mail. She may be contacted at 763-6991, or by e-mail: